Palestine donors: time to end paper solutions to real problems
I vividly remember two years ago, in April 2011, when the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) were sending the message that Palestinians are ready for statehood.
It was, in fact, in a meeting of Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the next edition of which is taking place on Tuesday (19 March) in Brussels.
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Back in 2011, the IMF claimed that the Palestinian Authority is “able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state."
The World Bank said that “if the Palestinian Authority maintains its performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.”
The UN joined the chorus, adding that “in six areas where the UN is most engaged, government functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state."
Speaking on behalf of the EU, Catherine Ashton declared that “today Palestinian institutions compare favourably with those in established states.”
For his part, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad described the meeting as a “birth certificate” for Palestinian statehood.
But while the 'family' was ready to sign the certificate, the baby went missing.
Since then, the baby has made two appearances.
The first time at the UN General Assembly in September 2011 and the second time 14 months later, in the same forum in November 2012.
And here we are today, with another meeting of the AHLC in Brussels.
The baby has been baptised and its name is Palestine.
Thus, one of the documents submitted for this meeting is entitled: "The government of Palestine’s report to the AHLC meeting."
But despite the great symbolic significance of the November 2012 UN vote, which granted Palestine the status of "non-member observer state" by 138 votes against nine against with 41 abstentions, the reality on the ground remains one of a non-state.
The situation is recognised by the AHLC report cited above, which says "this government remains with no effective control over the majority of its territory in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem."
So we have a "government" of a "state" which includes the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. And what about Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas?
Obviously, the "government of Palestine" is the government of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but reading the pages of the report, Gaza is mentioned 42 times and this "government" has included plans about Gaza.
I am confused.
Leaving this report to one side, let us look at a second one submitted to the AHLC by the Office of the Quartet Representative (OQR), Tony Blair.
This paper says that "the unprecedented and deepening fiscal crisis, aggravated by a slowing economy, reduced investment, growing unemployment and an unpredictable political and economic environment … puts Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's policy reforms and statehood agenda at increased risk."
And while the whole talk of statehood in reality covers only the West Bank (and more specifically mainly Area A, and, to some extent, Area B) Gaza also features in this report.
According to the OQR office: "For Gaza, it is vitally important to empower the private sector and support the economy, in addition to facilitating the delivery of basic social services such as water, sewage systems and energy."
So, what does this mean in practice?
The reply is in the next sentence: "This requires, inter alia, agreement to enable Palestinian telecom companies to introduce 3G and 4G technologies and roll-out networks."
I have to admit that in all these years of studying the Arab-Israeli conflict, I never saw the importance of the existence of 3G, let alone 4G technologies, for the average person in the Gaza strip.
Following on from the IMF and WB reports in 2011, I read about the stress tests of the banking sector, decline in growth, inflation figures, public financial management, budget deficits and budgetary revenues (just to mention a few issues), and the more I read, the more I had the impression that I was reading reports on the economy of a normal state.
But in reality, the whole debate is about a country which exists only on paper.
The WB report confirms that "there is a risk that gains in institution building may be eroded" and calls on the donor community to continue its financial support, if "commendable progress on institutional building" is to be sustained.
In fact, the continued financial support will only extend the life support process of the two-state solution and the Middle East Peace Process.
The consequences of the phenomenon, which Anne Le More, author of an important book on international assistance to the Palestinians, has called "aid instead of politics" might prove to be much more detrimental in the long term.
Nathan Brown, a leading analyst at the US think tank Carnegie Endowment, has also argued that “technocratic management can probably keep Palestinian institutions afloat and even improve their functioning in some limited ways. But it does not even pretend to offer a solution for the deeper problems afflicting Palestinian politics - division, repression, occupation, alienation, and wide-reaching institutional decay."
Meanwhile, Ashton, who will be hosting Tuesday's AHLC meeting, has said that “only a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can bring lasting security, peace and prosperity to the region … this meeting of the AHLC has a key role to play in strengthening the commitment to achieve this goal by sustaining the Palestinian Authority."
I believe that some clarity is needed here.
A "political solution" means "resurrection" of the two-state plan, “sustaining” means mere life support for the peace process.
In the words of the OQR report, "the two-state solution, though far from dead, has been on life support for too long."
This is all too true.
The reason why is that international donors are focusing on "sustaining" rather than "resurrecting."
The AHLC meeting this week should be used as an opportunity to address more seriously this issue. It is time to change the donors’ mindset.
Dimitris Bouris is research fellow in the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair at the College of Europe (Natolin campus). The views expressed in this article are his own